Are all world religions connected somehow?
September 23, 2006 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Is there a theory that links world religions as a progression of each other?

While I know that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all linked, is there a theory that ties in other eastern and new world religions? I seem to remember someone in high school writing his International Baccalaureate paper on the subject, but I can't remember what it was called, or what religions it dealt with.
posted by mhuckaba to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think the Bahá'í Faith has some elements along those lines.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 9:12 AM on September 23, 2006

Stan Tenon's Project Meru
posted by hortense at 9:22 AM on September 23, 2006

Zoroastrianism is frequently cited as a possible source (or at least great influence) on Judaism and Christianity, and is old enough to have been an influence on Eastern religions as well. I don't know much about this, but maybe this can get you started on your own research.

I think it's pretty much impossible to link New and Old World religions (or at least say much about the link) ---the period of time when the New World was settled was so far back that we won't know many details about beliefs back then. There would certainly be no writing, so we'd have to figure things out based on rock/cave paintings, figurines and the like. It predates "civilization" by quite a bit too, so I'd think that there'd be no major architecture either (so no temples).
posted by Humanzee at 9:34 AM on September 23, 2006

Joseph Campbell's "Heroes With a Thousand Faces" does just this, as do a lot of his other works.
posted by Brian James at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2006

The 19th century philosopher Hegel attempted this to some degree.
posted by treepour at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2006

Well Islam for one has the fundamental belief (you can't be a muslim without believing this) that every race had been sent a messenger, and a muslim has to believe in all of them without difference. Only 25 of them are mentioned in the Quran (mostly biblical prophets), but a Muslim believes that every culture in every age had the knowledge of a prophet from among themselves, i.e., a human being like them.
So in a way muslims do believe that most of the major religions would have been connected with divine revelation at some point or the other.

From an objective point of view, I don't think there has been a solid link connecting ancient Eastern and Western religions. Though, the history of India provides some interesting relations between the beliefs and symbols of early Aryan Indian settlers, Persian, and Egyptians. You may want to look into this book.
posted by raheel at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2006

I think there probably have been theories, if for no other reason than because there's someone out there who has a "theory" about damned near anything.

The real question is whether there are credible, well-backed theories about this, and the answer almost certainly is "no" because, as Humanzee points out, there's no plausible way to link western hemisphere religions back to those in the eastern hemisphere.

Of course, if you're willing to abandon the requirement for "credible, well-backed", there's always Erich Von Däniken and his theory that all human religions, both new world and old world, are the result of visitation by UFO's.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:04 PM on September 23, 2006

I suggest reading Karen Armstrong's History of God. While it does deal mostly with the Abrahamic three, it does (especially in the beginning) deal with continuity between those religions and the so-called 'pagan' religions. And I'm sure that somewhere in the bibliography is a book that does the same thing involving Eastern religions.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2006

By the way you use the words "theory" and "progression," I'm tempted to believe that your interest in religion is merely an interest in modern anthropology. If so, then Steve up there has a pretty good answer; if you're only interested in religion as an artifact of culture, then it's absurd to believe that the religions are connected. There is really no way in which religions today in the west "evolved from" "progressed from" or "influenced" religions in the east. If you're looking for crackpot theories that ignore this fact, then I can add to Steven's suggestion Teilhard de Chardin, a funky Jesuit scientist who believed that Christianity is a stage in the evolution of Man to God. (The last Pope, John Paul II, was a big fan of his.) I don't remember him very well (I haven't invested much effort in him) but I seem to recall that the so-called 'pagan' and 'eastern' religions were part of his system. Anyhow, when you mention 'progression,' that's what springs to mind here.

However, if your interest in religion is more than an interest in anthropology, and you're actually interested in the religious experience, much ignored by modern academics, then you have options. Specifically: you can easily link the world's religions if they are all manifestations of the same ever-available truth. raheel was hinting at that, I think. I've found no one better than the mostly catholics-turned-hindus-turned-muslims who call themselves Traditionalists.
posted by koeselitz at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

One problem with this entire area is that scholars in it have to step extremely gingerly, because the whole thing is strewn with land mines.

Remember the "Dead Sea Scrolls"? A certain institution in Israel has been sitting on them for several decades and refuses to release them. Many suspect it's because they contain information about the early practice of Judaism that goes against orthodoxy.

Another example: the Bible says that Moses got the Ten Commandments directly from God on two large stone tablets. But once the Code of Hammurabi was found and translated, it began to look as if a lot of the Mosaic law, including some of the Ten Commandments, was a direct crib from the Babylonians.

But to suggest such a thing amounts to directly challenging the beliefs of literally billions of people -- many of whom will get angry, and some of whom will become violent. (Read the recent news from the mideast for examples of that.) So scholars in that area are extremely careful, and tend to try to not publicize what they've found.

Critical study of the Koran and the history of Islam is at best furtive, at worst terribly constrained, by legitimate fear of violence by Islamic extremists directed at the researchers.

Or consider all the hubbub over the Kennewick Man. Local Indian tribes have sued in court to prevent scientists from examining the skeleton, because preliminary examination of it strongly suggests that he wasn't related to the Indians -- and that represents a challenge to the native religion, which claims that the Indians have lived in that part of North America since the creation of the world. It took a recent act of Congress to finally end that whole challenge and permit the scientists to get on with doing science on the skeleton.

Any study relating to origins of living religions is the third rail of anthropological study.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:53 PM on September 23, 2006

what do you call new world religions? That have survived to the present day?
posted by parmanparman at 5:16 PM on September 23, 2006

New World refers to the Americas and sometimes Oceania. Whether a place is New or Old depends on when Europeans first found it.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:48 PM on September 23, 2006

Yeah, "New world" is a eurocentric term. America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an otherwise quite unimportant Italian. Virginia is named after the Holy Virgin. Columbia is named after Columbus. San Francisco is named after Saint Francis of Assisi.

Irrespective of where those terms and names came from, we're stuck with them now and they have standard and well-understood meanings.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:58 PM on September 23, 2006

No, Virginia, as I understand it was named after the Virgin Queen Bess, A.K.A Queen Elizabeth 1st of England.
posted by Wilder at 2:36 AM on September 25, 2006

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